Jul 20 2012 by Clair Fullarton, Kilmarnock Standard
ONE hundred years ago, the world’s most luxurious ship, the magnificent RMS Titanic, sank on her maiden voyage to New York.
You can’t escape the centenary – there have been countless TV shows and James Cameron’s Oscar-winning blockbuster has been shown again for the umpteenth time.
But nowhere has gone more Titanic-tastic than bustling Belfast, the ship’s home, and where the locals declare: “She was all right when she left here!”
The popular city is continuing to evolve, transforming itself from the dark days of the troubles, and the latest area to be rejuvenated is the Titanic quarter, home of the new exhibition dedicated to the historic ship, the people who built her and those who sailed in her.
Titanic Belfast extends over nine galleries drawing together special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and innovative interactive features to explore the Titanic story in a fresh and insightful way. The journey even goes beyond the aftermath of the sinking, to the discovery of the wreck and continues into the present day with a live undersea exploration centre.
Belfast has always been easy to get to, but Stena and Doods of Troon have teamed up to make it even more do-able, offering day trips, which can include entry to the Titanic Belfast.
There are pick up points all over Ayrshire including, Ayr, Irvine, Kilmarnock and Kilwinning, so there really is no excuse not to go.
As I am a big fan of Belfast, I didn’t need much persuading to give a ferry trip to the Northern Irish capital a go. And as I wanted to catch up with an old friend while I was there I opted for an overnight stay too.
With Stena you can be assured of a super smooth sailing, with the added bonus of a spa on board.
I travelled Stena Plus which included access to an exclusive lounge, with free hot and cold drinks, including wine, as well as magazines, newspapers, snacks and even sweeties for the younger travellers.
It really made the journey feel like part of the holiday experience. My travelling companion Christine and I also took advantage of the spa.
On the way to Belfast we treated ourselves to a relaxing Indian head massage and on our return we donned our swimming cossies and luxuriated in the jacuzzi and sauna. It really is the most relaxing way to travel!
On arrival in Belfast we headed straight for the Stormont Hotel on the outskirts of the city, opposite the famous Stormont House, home of Northern Ireland Assembly.
It was the first time in all my trips to Belfast that I’d stayed in this area and we resolved to walk round the impressive grounds after breakfast the next day.
We were given the ‘1912’ junior suite, which was appropriate under the Titanic circumstances, and the ensuite had possibly the best shower I have ever had!
After freshening up we headed via a handy bus outside the hotel into the city centre where we jumped in a cab and made for Titanic Belfast.
Luckily the exhibition was open until 7pm and Christine and I made the most of the couple of hours, cramming as much as we could into the visit.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit and leaving at least half a day to really take your time, and stop for a coffee and some essential souvenir-shopping. Stena’s day trips are perfect for this, as they give you that amount of time!
After an early start that morning, we avoided the brilliant Belfast nightlife for once, and decided that a meal and cocktails back at the Stormont would be just the ticket to round off a busy day.
The meal – beautiful steak and chips cooked to perfection – was a real treat and my Irish coffee, now a tradition for me when I’m in Ireland, was the perfect nightcap.
True to our word the next morning, after a comfortable night and a delicious breakfast, the pair of us walked from the hotel up the famous long drive to the top of the hill where the imposing Stormont Hotel sits.
After a pleasant visit to the newly-opened Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC) in Belfast’s cathedral quarter and a quick lunch in one of Belfast’s many quaint little eateries, it was sadly time to leave.
But as Arnie often said: “I’ll be back”.
For more information on Stena’s fares and special offers log onto stenaline.co.uk/daytrips or call 08447 707070. For information on the Stormont Hotel visit www.hastingshotels.com/stormont-hotel.
Also see www.titanicbelfast.com and themaclive.com for more on these new Belfast attractions.